I agree with some of the other comments that have been made already.....First of all, if you have never lived on a boat before and are new to sailing in general, you may want to start off with a less expensive boat. There's no need to spend 6-7K on yr first boat. Also, don't get hung up on particular brands, such as Catalina, or any other brand for that matter. Just because a boat is a particular brand does not ensure that it is structurally sound/seaworthy. Yes, some brands do have better reputations than others as far as quality of construction, but don't rely on that. Each boat being considered needs to be thouroughly inspected bow to stern. Also, in some cases, you may find that "production" boats may lack quality construction. For instance, the thickness of the hull may be less than desirable, keel bolts may have been used (rather than an integrated keel), decks, or even hulls may be cored with materials other than fiberglass (which can result in MAJOR problems if any water has leaked into the cored material). In general, I would suggest looking for a hand laid fiberglass hull that is not cored and has an integrated keel, rather than keel bolts, and solid fiberglass decks, rather than cored. These features are much harder to find on the newer boats and even alot of the older production boats. However, many boats built in the 70s do have thicker, hand laid solid fiberglass hulls, integrated keels, and solid fiberglass decks. You could purchase one of these older boats, which would most likely be a "fixer upper", like you said you wanted, at a very good price. A boat such as this would have structural integrity and you wouldn't have to worry about the possibility of any cores having water damage, resulting in soft decks, or worse, and that can run into many thousands of dollars to repair
. I do not want to offend anyone so I will not mention brands of production boats that you should avoid but will say that certain brands of older boats, such as Morgans, Endeavors, & Irwins are known for quality construction. However, the way they are built does make them heavier and slower but if your primary purpose is to live aboard, not race, I would much rather have a sturdy boat that can handle rough seas/storms without a problem than to have a fast boat that I'm scared to take into the ocean. If you are looking for the most space for the length of the boat, Morgans are known to be roomy.
Even a well cared for older boat will most likely need the electronic navagation equipment updated, as some still have LORAN systems, which are now obselete. A simple way to avoid having to worry about all of this is to get a professional survey by a reputable company/individual. Sometimes, depending on where you are, you can get one done for as little as $350 and if it saves you from buying a money pit, it's worth every cent.
If you plan to keep the boat in a wet slip/live in a marina, you do need to find out if that marina requires you to carry boat insurance. Most marinas I've dealt with require a minimum of $300 thousand liability and the cost of boat insurance ranges from $500 up to $2,500 a year, depending on the coverage you select and which company you choose. Another policy I would HIGHLY suggest in either a Tow Boat US or Sea Tow policy. I have Boat US, which costs $150/year and it's the best money I've ever spent. Especially if you're just learning to sail, you will need this policy. For the $150, you get UNLIMITED service, meaning they will tow you to a marina for repairs
if needed, bring fuel
to you if you run out, jump start your battery, and if you become grounded, they will get you ungrounded, even if it takes hours. Without this policcy, one call to Boat US can run over $1,000 easily.
Some good areas to look for good used boats at reasonable prices are: Oriental, NC, Charleston, SC, Annapolis, MD, and most of Florida (as long as the boat has not been a charter boat). Another way to save money is to have your boat listed as a documented vessel with the Coast Guard. This way you can avoid many of the state renewal and other fees. I hope some of this helps! Remember, these are just my opinions....Consider all advice given to you and then decide for yourself. Good Luck!